Training

Benchmark A Better You Challenge: Start Run Month With A Test 5K

Run a time trial 5K or a benchmark test set this weekend. Then see how you improve over January.

With the new year, it’s time for new goals and a new benchmark test. As part of the Benchmark A Better You challenge we’ll be focusing on one leg of triathlon each month. First up in January: Run month! (In February we’ll be working on biking, and in March it’ll be all about swimming.)

Each month will start with a benchmark test and then feature workouts from a top coach in the sport, and we’ll end with the benchmark test again to see how you improved. In January, we have the legendary running coach Bobby McGee leading you through your tests and three to four run workouts each week. Add in swim and bike cross-training to your week depending on your level of fitness and experience.

You can see the rough calendar for January below. Print it out and stick it on your fridge to plan ahead. We’ll post the specifics of the week’s workouts each Sunday.

Ready to go? Get started by setting a benchmark for yourself this weekend. A benchmark test—for example, a 5K time trial or a test set in the pool—gives you a starting point to know where your current fitness is. It also provides a benchmark for you to then set training zones or heart-rate zones.

To start run month, we’ll be doing a run test this weekend. That’s why we’re giving you some advance notice, so you can get ready for this weekend or even get a friend to run with you! Anytime from Jan. 1-3 do your run test on a safe, reasonably flat, all-weather surface (like a track, asphalt path, or out-and-back stretch of road) where you can repeat this exact benchmark test at the end of the month. Either run a 5K time trial if you’re able to, or do one of these tests from Coach McGee. Regardless of which test you pick, just be sure you record your results so you check your progress at the end of January!

Run month benchmark tests:

  • If you’re an experienced runner, run a test 5K time trial. Record how fast you do it in, as well as your perceived effort and average heart rate with a heart-rate monitor.
  • If you feel you are around a 30-minute or higher runner for 5K, then you can instead run 5 or 6 x 5-minutes at best controlled effort with 2-minute recovery between each. Record your rate of perceived effort, average heart rate (if you use a HR monitor), and pace assuming you are on a flat surface. If you feel you are around a 25-minute 5K runner, then do 5 x 5-minutes. If you’re around a 20-minute 5K runner, then you can do 4 x 5-minutes.
  • If you’re a more advanced runner, then you can either do the 5K time trial or 4 x 1600m on an all-weather track, with 2-minute walk/jog recovery between each interval.

McGee said, “This average pace will give a good estimate of your current 5K ability and what will be possible (a little faster) for a 5K TT or baseline workout at the end of January.” Let us know how you do by sharing your test results on social media using the hashtag #betteryoubenchmark or join our Triathlete Challenge Facebook group.

Week 1 Workouts

This week’s workouts start off the Benchmark Challenge with a slow build, focusing on simply getting some minutes underneath your legs and working on a base for the more difficult and complex sessions ahead. Resist the urge to jump in at full distance each day if you’ve had a long break from running—even if you’re advanced. Being measured and controlled through the first week will leave you ready to run well in the second week and onward! Get more details here.

Note: Session notes are located after the weekly table.

Coach McGee’s notes for the week:

Overall Plan Notes:

  1. Athletes running only 3 times per week may choose to supplement their run training with walks. These are suggested in some form each week.
  2. Remember to take at least one day of a good recovery, but if you do two-a-days with swim and bike, these are best either completed back to back, (i.e., as one session) or with at least 5 hours apart.

Endurance Workout Notes:

  1. Walk 3 to 5 minutes before and after every endurance workout
  2. Choose the duration that best suits your current ability–doing more than you are currently doing will be unnecessarily risky and little stands to be gained
  3. It is highly recommended that individuals that have done no to little running, or are larger athletes, or have a slower gait consider the walk/run/walk method. Choose from a 4-minute run, 1-minute walk pattern, all the way up to a 9-minute walk/1-minute run pattern. The longer the run, the shorter the pattern. Complete beginners would do well to even consider 1, 2 or 3 minutes of running, with a 1-minute walk between.
  4. When choosing the run/walk/run approach, cover the duration suggested in the workout by running; the walks are extra. For example, if you choose to run for 30 minutes using a 4/1 pattern, then you will run 7 x 4-minute efforts and 1 x 2-minute run effort with 7 minutes of total walking in addition to your 30 total minutes of running.
  5. Advanced runners can consider the 6 to 9-minute run with a 1-minute (or less) walk for runs of durations at or above an hour. This will allow for greater progression and more rapid recovery with no loss of endurance benefits.

Stride Notes:

  1. Strides are essential neuromuscular conditioners that transfer your cardio-vascular endurance into faster running.
  2. Strides are pick-ups or acceleration runs that start gradually and build to a safe speed just beyond the fastest speed that you run for intervals or repetitions.
  3. If you know, or usually complete some dynamic mobility drills, these can be completed before strides AND quality workouts.
  4. Strides are of very brief duration. Keep them under 9 seconds. I suggest counting either left or right foot strikes only – keep these at 16 strides or less.
  5. Rest between strides by slowly walking back over the distance covered in the stride before starting again.
  6. Keep these strides progressive—i.e., the 1st stride should only be just quicker than your easy pace while working your way up with each ensuing stride until the final one is at your fastest comfortable safe pace.
  7. Complete between 4 and 6 strides per session.

Week 2 Workouts

This week’s workouts build off of last week’s slow roll back into running with an increase in distance and the first controlled efforts. Remember, even if you’re feeling great, keep it that way! There’s still no need to push yourself with more distance or speed than you’re ready for as you still get back into the swing of things. Patience now will pay off dividends later. Get more details here.
Note: Session notes are located after the weekly table.

Coach McGee’s notes for the week:

Week-Specific Notes:

Jan. 14 session: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Complete 4 strides and then run at best controlled effort—like your benchmark run in the first week—of 7 to 10 one-minute efforts, with a 1-minute walk between each. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run.

Jan. 16-17 session: Long Endurance can be on either Saturday or Sunday. The other day would be a no run day.

Overall Plan Notes:

  1. Athletes running only 3 times per week may choose to supplement their run training with walks. These are suggested in some form each week.
  2. Remember to take at least one day of a good recovery, but if you do two-a-days with swim and bike, these are best either completed back to back, (i.e., as one session) or with at least 5 hours apart.

Endurance Workout Notes:

  1. Walk 3 to 5 minutes before and after every endurance workout 
  2. Choose the duration that best suits your current ability – doing more than you are currently doing will be unnecessarily risky and little stands to be gained
  3. It is highly recommended that individuals that have done no to little running, or are larger athletes, or have a slower gait consider the walk/run/walk method. Choose from a 4-minute run, 1-minute walk pattern, all the way up to a 9-minute walk/1-minute run pattern. The longer the run, the shorter the pattern. Complete beginners would do well to even consider 1, 2 or 3 minutes of running, with a 1-minute walk between.
  4. When choosing the run/walk/run approach, cover the duration suggested in the workout by running; the walks are extra. For example, if you choose to run for 30 minutes using a 4/1 pattern, then you will run 7 x 4-minute efforts and 1 x 2-minute run effort with 7 minutes of total walking in addition to your 30 total minutes of running.
  5. Advanced runners can consider the 6 to 9-minute run with a 1-minute (or less) walk for runs of durations at or above an hour. This will allow for greater progression and more rapid recovery with no loss of endurance benefits.

Stride Notes:

  1. Strides are essential neuromuscular conditioners that transfer your cardio-vascular endurance into faster running.
  2. Strides are pick-ups or acceleration runs that start gradually and build to a safe speed just beyond the fastest speed that you run for intervals or repetitions.
  3. If you know, or usually complete some dynamic mobility drills, these can be completed before strides AND quality workouts.
  4. Strides are of very brief duration. Keep them under 9 seconds. I suggest counting either left or right foot strikes only – keep these at 16 strides or less. 
  5. Rest between strides by slowly walking back over the distance covered in the stride before starting again.
  6. Keep these strides progressive—i.e., the 1st stride should only be just quicker than your easy pace while working your way up with each ensuing stride until the final one is at your fastest comfortable safe pace.
  7. Complete between 4 and 6 strides per session.

Week 3 Workouts

This week’s workouts finally introduce some pretty strong efforts, building off the last two weeks’ slow ramp back into shape. Be sure to read each workout carefully and be realistic about your level as the intervals get longer with more reps. Pay close attention to how your body feels through each set and adjust as you’ll just be getting your “fast feet” underneath you for the first time in a while. Don’t rush the rest intervals or warm ups, especially this time of year!

Note: Session notes are located after the weekly table.

Week-Specific Notes:

Jan. 19 session: 

  • Beginner: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Run 4 x 1 minute at best controlled effort with a 1-minute walk between each. After the last minute, walk for 2 minutes, and jog for one minute. Then, on a surface similar to the upcoming time trial, run 3 strong, and controlled 5-minute efforts, with a 2-minute walk between each. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run. 
  • Advanced: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Run 6 x 1 minute at best controlled effort with a 1-minute walk between each. After the last minute, walk for 2 minutes, and jog for one minute. Then, on a surface similar to the upcoming time trial, run 4 strong, and controlled 5-minute efforts, with a 2-minute walk between each. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run.

Jan. 21 session: 

  • Beginner: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Complete 4 strides. Then run 4 x 30 seconds hill/incline strides with a walk down recovery. Rest 3 minutes and complete 3 x 3-minute efforts at best controlled effort on the flat, with 90 seconds walking between each. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run. 
  • Advanced: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Complete 6 strides. Then run 6 x 30 seconds hill/incline strides with a walk down recovery. Rest 3 minutes and complete 4 x 3-minute efforts at best controlled effort on the flat, with 90 seconds walking between each. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run.

Overall Plan Notes:

  1. Athletes running only 3 times per week may choose to supplement their run training with walks. These are suggested in some form each week.
  2. Remember to take at least one day of a good recovery, but if you do two-a-days with swim and bike, these are best either completed back to back, (i.e., as one session) or with at least 5 hours apart.

Endurance Workout Notes:

  1. Walk 3 to 5 minutes before and after every endurance workout 
  2. Choose the duration that best suits your current ability – doing more than you are currently doing will be unnecessarily risky and little stands to be gained
  3. It is highly recommended that individuals that have done no to little running, or are larger athletes, or have a slower gait consider the walk/run/walk method. Choose from a 4-minute run, 1-minute walk pattern, all the way up to a 9-minute walk/1-minute run pattern. The longer the run, the shorter the pattern. Complete beginners would do well to even consider 1, 2 or 3 minutes of running, with a 1-minute walk between.
  4. When choosing the run/walk/run approach, cover the duration suggested in the workout by running; the walks are extra. For example, if you choose to run for 30 minutes using a 4/1 pattern, then you will run 7 x 4-minute efforts and 1 x 2-minute run effort with 7 minutes of total walking in addition to your 30 total minutes of running.
  5. Advanced runners can consider the 6 to 9-minute run with a 1-minute (or less) walk for runs of durations at or above an hour. This will allow for greater progression and more rapid recovery with no loss of endurance benefits.

Stride Notes:

  1. Strides are essential neuromuscular conditioners that transfer your cardio-vascular endurance into faster running.
  2. Strides are pick-ups or acceleration runs that start gradually and build to a safe speed just beyond the fastest speed that you run for intervals or repetitions.
  3. If you know, or usually complete some dynamic mobility drills, these can be completed before strides AND quality workouts.
  4. Strides are of very brief duration. Keep them under 9 seconds. I suggest counting either left or right foot strikes only – keep these at 16 strides or less. 
  5. Rest between strides by slowly walking back over the distance covered in the stride before starting again.
  6. Keep these strides progressive—i.e., the 1st stride should only be just quicker than your easy pace while working your way up with each ensuing stride until the final one is at your fastest comfortable safe pace.
  7. Complete between 4 and 6 strides per session.

Week 4

This week is mostly about putting in some finishing touches that’ll best prepare you for your test on either Saturday or Sunday. Be sure to follow the efforts and times as written, even if you’re feeling fast or fresh or finally starting to hit your stride after maybe a slow start earlier in the month. Remain consistent now so you can best gauge any improvements when it’s time to test. 

Note: Session notes are located after the weekly table.

Coach McGee’s notes for the week:

Jan. 25 session:

  • Beginner: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Do 6 strides. Run a fartlek session, at best controlled effort as follows: 1 minute on, jog 1 minute, 2 minutes on and again jog 1 minute, 3 minutes on, jog 1 minute, then 2 minutes on again, jog 1 minute, and complete the set with a 1-minute effort. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run.
  • Advanced: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Do 6 strides. Run a fartlek session, at best controlled effort as follows: 1 minute on, jog 1 minute, 2 minutes on and again jog 1 minute, 3 minutes on, jog 1 minute, then 2 minutes on again, jog 1 minute, and complete the set with a 1-minute effort. Then walk for 3 minutes with 4 light 30-second strides, preferably on a gentle hill if possible. Cool down with a 2-minute walk and a relaxed 5- to 7-minute run.

Jan. 29 or Jan. 30 session (should be the day before the scheduled benchmark test):

  • Beginner and Advanced: Warm up with a short walk, then 5 to 10 minutes of easy running. Complete some dynamic mobility drills if you know and use these. Complete 4 strides, preferably on a slight incline. Then run 4 x 1 minute at the estimated conservative pace intended for tomorrow’s benchmark run with a 1-minute walk recovery

Overall Plan Notes:

  1. Athletes running only 3 times per week may choose to supplement their run training with walks. These are suggested in some form each week.
  2. Remember to take at least one day of a good recovery, but if you do two-a-days with swim and bike, these are best either completed back to back, (i.e., as one session) or with at least 5 hours apart.

Stride Notes:

  1. Strides are essential neuromuscular conditioners that transfer your cardio-vascular endurance into faster running.
  2. Strides are pick-ups or acceleration runs that start gradually and build to a safe speed just beyond the fastest speed that you run for intervals or repetitions.
  3. If you know, or usually complete some dynamic mobility drills, these can be completed before strides AND quality workouts.
  4. Strides are of very brief duration. Keep them under 9 seconds. I suggest counting either left or right foot strikes only – keep these at 16 strides or less. 
  5. Rest between strides by slowly walking back over the distance covered in the stride before starting again.
  6. Keep these strides progressive—i.e., the 1st stride should only be just quicker than your easy pace while working your way up with each ensuing stride until the final one is at your fastest comfortable safe pace.
  7. Complete between 4 and 6 strides per session.